The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

The Mowbray Christmas Letter: 1998

Life in Papua New Guinea?
Well, who would have believed it? We have made it through the first year in Papua New Guinea! Our last Christmas letter had our change of address & other details about coming, amazing: 12 months. I can almost hear you asking, "Is it like you thought it'd be?" The answer is definitely, "Yes – and no." If that wasn't the question you were thinking of, then it must be, "Are you enjoying it?" Well, that question is easier than the first to answer: Some mornings I wake up and ask, "Why on earth have we come here?" and other mornings it's, "I'm so glad we have come!"

I decided to do something completely new for this year's Christmas letter. I wrote out some questions which each of us had to answer (being as truthful as possible). I know I wont have asked all the questions you would have, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Besides, if you do have a burning question, we answer all mail (eventually), so ask away! Just so you don't think that my spelling has regressed, I've italicised all the Pidgin words!

Now, Christmas is not just about the Advent of Jesus: spiritually, and in real terms, that was nine months before – ask any mother. Christmas is the celebration of the revelation, the revealing of Jesus, the birth. Mary is our guide in this, our special example who gave God her "Yes", who contained the Mystery of God made man within her. Christmas is about the birth pains, the joy, the miracle of holding a new life. I pray that we can all follow Mary's example courageously: That the Life, the Power and Love of God will not only be secreted within us through our "Yes" to God, but that we might also bring forth that same Mystery to birth & manhood in our lives. Merry Christmas! May Jesus remain with you throughout the coming year.

The Survey

1. Name:
Sandi: Sandi
Perry: Perry Mowbray
Jesse: Jesse Mowbray.
Keren: Keren Mowbray.
Nathanael: Nathanael Mowbray (Mr.)

2. Age:
Sandi: 41 73
Perry: 39
Jesse: 16.
Keren: 14
Nathanael: 11 years.

3. Height:
Sandi: 1.74m (5'8")
Perry: 1.876 m
Jesse: 1.955 m (6'5")
Keren: 1.755m (5'9")
Nathanael: 1.533 m

4. Weight:
Sandi: Nogat
Perry: 89 kg
Jesse: 81 kg.
Keren: 59 kg.
Nathanael: 54 kg.

5. Why did you come to Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: In the final analysis, I have to say, I believe it is the place God put us. I personally would not have chosen Papua New Guinea, but now I'm glad He did.
Perry: It was a very strong leading from God, some years ago now: um, 7 years I think?; and during the lead up to when we left, many prayers were answered and all the doors opened for us to come, so we came. God obviously has His purposes, but what are mine? After my education/retraining I wanted to use it for something apart from for myself, put something back into the world for Jesus. Like a tithe I guess. I also wanted a cross cultural experience for my family, especially the boys. Growing up in any one place, but especially Sydney, is a very narrow existence.
Jesse: After we'd talked it over as a family it looked like the best option. Anyhow, even if it wasn't the best thing for some of us, it would be a good adventure and cultural experience – not something you do everyday: spending 2 years in Papua New Guinea. Also it would add a bit of spice and difference in our lives (were we different before?)
Keren: I suppose to be with the family and to experience a new culture.
Nathanael: To be a missionary.

6. Describe the weather.
Sandi: Very pleasant. Blanket or 2 in dry season, none in the wet.
Perry: In the midst of reading the Narnia series to the family, the description came to me as a flash: "Always Christmas, but never winter." If you've read the books (and everyone should), you'll understand.
Jesse: Pleasant: warm days, cool nights with rain in the afternoon.
Keren: October, November, December & January are mostly warm days with rain in the afternoon at around 3 or 4 pm. February, March & April the rain declines to maybe every second day. May, June, July, August & September are dry hot days with rain once a week, if we are lucky, or we pray for rain 2 or 3 times a week.
Nathanael: Rains in the night, hot at day.

7. What is the best and worst thing that has happened to you in Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: The worst single thing is difficult to pinpoint, but I think PK dying and finding him was hard [see The Life and Times of PK, our puskat]. Best was Perry's birthday and surprising him and then feeling so surprised myself because he was so blessed and the reason I'd never made such a big fuss before was because I thought he wouldn't like it! [see My Birthday: 28th June, 1998]
Perry: Best: Answered prayer: Lost keys materialising - although writing this now, it's a bit like looking back to the crossing of the Red Sea: it was huge at the time, but life has gone on. At the time I had hoped that it would create a change in the workers faith lives, but it seems a long time ago now [see The miracle of the keys].
Worst: Although it didn't happen to me personally, Sandi being harassed in the markets has been the worst thing that has happened to me [see Our Weekly Trip to Hagen].
Jesse: Best: Meeting new people, doing new stuff, going new places and also the Clarks' visit in July [see: Fishing for a BBQed Sausage, Swimming at the Banz Club and The Swimming Hole close to the College].
Worst: Being really sick and missing a lot of school (1½ months) and then failing some exams because of that.
Keren: The best thing I think would be learning a new language: Tok Pisin. Mi laikem dispela tok belong PNG! When I first came I just wanted to slide into place in the community and with the people around, but in the college a family just didn't have the right shape, and being white didn't help outside. So I found myself pushed into a totally different group, separated, 'them and us'. Well, we try to say "all of us", but at the moment, we haven't slipped into the crowd.
Nathanael: Best: Getting a telephone call from a friend. Worst: Being bitten by a dog.

8. What is the movie you have most enjoyed seeing lately?
Sandi: 'The Sting', 'Princess Bride' and 'Sneakers', but before coming to Papua New Guinea I really enjoyed "Liar Liar": a couple of really crass parts but over all very good.
Perry: I think movies are a tool of the Devil, but I did enjoy seeing 'Sneakers': no sex, no violence, no witchcraft or magic or glossy evangelical treatments of other religions, funny and with great suspense.
Jesse: 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels', 'Twins' and 'Last Action Hero' All of these because they were funny and overall well done.
Keren: 'Back to the Future II', 'Last Action Hero' with Arnold Schwartznigger and "Sneekers" with Robert Redford.
Nathanael: 'We'll get mad!' with actors Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer.

9. What do you enjoy doing most in Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: Going on a bush walk or tubing or swimming in the river as a family or with others as well. Having a fire in the haus win at night. Playing Up and Down the River.
Perry: The scenery here is awesome. It is very enjoyable to look at. Wandering through it and looking at it is nice too, actually, wandering through it, and looking at it with my family would have to be the best. Unless of course it was wandering through the awesome scenery, looking at it with my family with an assurance of getting a cup of tea at the end of the walk. That would have to be the best. Unless, after wandering with my family through the awesome scenery and looking at it, the cup of tea was actually was a big pot, so all my family could have 1 or 2 cups of tea: that would have to be the ultimate.
Jesse: Different construction projects: Vegie garden, chicken coop and jam making; white water tubing and mountain hikes.
Keren: Being with the family at the Banz Club, and playing basketball at Kudjip.
Nathanael: Playing football with my brothers: AFL basically.

10. What was the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you in Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: At the end of an outstation Mass they have a toksave and some girls behind me had been playing with my hair, so just mucking around, I turned and pounced on them and the whole church laughed. I forgot how conspicuous we are.
Perry: I find the respect we are given because of our skin colour embarrassing. Every shop here has security guards on the door doing body and bag searches of those leaving. We never get searched. At the outstation churches, everyone wants to shake your hand (which I really enjoy though).
Jesse: Leaving the tap on in my room and half an hour later finding that my room had turned into a swimming pool with 2 cm of water in it! Doh! A big job for the mop, not to mention the suggestive comments from the rest of my family.
Keren: When I don't do anything that I think is funny and all the girls giggle at me, and then do that weird after laugh thing.
Nathanael: One night I sleep walked into the staff house and gave a priest a fright, and Mum & dad had to rescue me…

11. What do you miss most leaving Australia?
Sandi: I miss apples, they are available here, but too expensive. Having people just a cheap phone call away. Safety of person and property – not having to think.
Perry: Old established friendships.
Jesse: Friends, sport, beaches and school(?).
Keren: Friends, sport.
Nathanael: Friends and hockey.

12. What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: Nathanael and I went for a walk up to a Bikpela Wara Kalup with 3 German volunteers and 2 National guides. At the first river crossing I took off my shoes and went barefoot, which was no problem. At one place, we stopped by the river where it was gushing along over large rocks and boulders, I crouched down to feel the water temperature, but when I went to stand up my feet slid straight out from under me. I sat down in the river, but the current was so swift it knocked me over backwards and I went under head first. I managed to roll over and crawl out complete with white hat and day pack, almost helpless with laughter. The 2 nationals seemed to feel responsible and were so worried, which made me laugh even more. We all managed to fall several times after that, even one of the guides, it was just so slippery. Later when I took my pack off at home, I found my dress was ripped right across the back. Incidentally, the water temperature was quite refreshing.
Perry: Falling down four steps on the building site and looking up to see all the workers laughing.
Jesse: Having my hand shaken by almost everybody after church at the outstations, and driving through Banz on the back of the ute with no shirt on after a swim at the Banz Club and having everyone stare at me.
Keren: Playing sport with nationals is much different than Australia: they play a much harder game, run harder, try harder. So when playing touch football, it's hard to adjust: being left behind when you're attacking and not being able to catch them when defending, and all over being really tired at the end.
Nathanael: I put an avalanche of pepper on my poor scrambled eggs.

13. What will you miss most about Papua New Guinea when you move back to Australia?
Sandi: Masses at the outstations. Sense of the unexpected. Avocados for 20t (baseball size)
Perry: The openness and friendliness of people generally, the modesty of women. When we came here we almost expected all the women to be wearing little laplaps and have their breasts hanging around their knees and all the men to be wearing penis gourds (we called them parsnips, because that's what they looked like in the photographs). But the reality is an extremely modest society. The women breast feed in public, walking along the road, sitting in the shopping centre aisle or on the footpath: but you would never know. In fact, when they waswas in the rivers, they do it fully clothed.
Jesse: Climate, and always being the centre of attention (it's hard to be normal when you've got white skin in a dark skinned community & it gets annoying).
Keren: The atmosphere, the slow days and not being in a rush most of the time.
Nathanael: Friends, weather and 3rd worldness.

14. What new foods do you like most in Papua New Guinea? What food do you dislike the most?
Sandi: Sweet fruit and mumu nice. Strong greens and bitter gourd not so.
Perry: Like: Paw paw, kaukau & local tea and coffee. Dislike: Cooking bananas, and like most of my family, bitter gourd has to be one of the bitterest substances you can put in your mouth, and I can't for the life of me understand anyone wanting to put it in their mouth, let alone chew it and let it touch their tongue!
Jesse: Like: Tropical fruits, sugar cane & mumu kaukau. Dislike: Bitter gourd, tin pis and some tinned meat.
Keren: Food hasn't really changed, but I really do not like bitter gourd.
Nathanael: Like: mumu meat. Dislike: Day old greasy cabbage from a mumu.

15. What is school/work like in Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: Relaxed: no time pressure, no pressure to perform. At the local clinic , they pray at the start of the day: often things are unavailable or people can't pay, so treatment is compromised.
Perry: Extremely frustrating and quite exciting/interesting: The working day just seems to happen around you here, new things just materialise, which is very interesting – but also frustrating because it stops you completing the many old things that are unfinished.
Jesse: Fairly easy, but not to be underestimated. It is sometimes frustrating at how slow we go & some teaching methods are a bit weird. Still, we live with it. Oh, I'd better say what subjects I'm taking: English, Personal Development, Guidance, Computers & Library (all core subjects) and then Chemistry, Physics and Maths A for my options. It's quite good the range of subjects that we do get and Fr Peter Secondary School is apparently one of the best non-international schools in Papua New Guinea.
Keren: School is more like a country school, basically bare room with wooden floor and wooden desks where you keep your books under your desk (like primary school in Australia). You don't change classrooms, or only in extreme cases (e.g. to the science lab, library or art room). Subjects are fewer and more general in year 9. English, Science, Social Science and Maths are included in the core subjects: that is where the main subjects for examination. Extras include: Agriculture, Commerce, Religious Education, Extraordinary Arts (drama, singing, music, dance and visual arts). Teachers are the same as students and can just not turn up out of the blue. Exercise books are shared between subjects, except in Maths, English, Science and Social Science. All the others need book share. As some teachers are slack, free periods are frequent, so looking around the classroom gets boring.
Nathanael: Very nice with good friendly teachers and friends. Work is challenging, but good. When you do something bad you get the stick.

16. If Jesus stood in front of you and said, "What do you want?", what would you reply?
Sandi: To speak pidgin well.
Perry: Harmony in this community or grace to cope, a revelation of His immense power.
Jesse: No acne & happy life after our time in Papua New Guinea.
Keren: Friends – good friends.
Nathanael: I think I would ask for the Holy Spirit to come to the leaders of the world, to do His ways.

17. What book have you most enjoyed reading?
Sandi: We have all read heaps! 'A smile on the face of God' by Adrian Plass and 'Escape' by Murray.
Perry: 'Thromim way leg' by Tim Flannery.
Jesse: 'A Matter of Honour' by Jeffrey Archer; 'The Firm'.
Keren: 'The Chronicles of Narnia'
Nathanael: Catch me a Colobus by Gerald Durrel

18. What is the hardest thing you have to do now?
Sandi: Go to the clinic : initially I feel nervous about whether I'll be understand what people are saying, be happy with the treatments I give, about feeling I'm in the way. It's usually OK once I get there.
Perry: Shopping: finding some of the simplest things can be extremely difficult.
Jesse: Chores, day to day living, study, eating tin pis but mostly staying interested in stuff and occupied when there doesn't seem like there's a lot to do.
Keren: Probably getting through exams and waiting for Christmas holidays.
Nathanael: Work without a teacher while she is in Rome.

19. What are friendships like in Papua New Guinea?
Sandi: Not much social interaction with staff here at College, we were doing some things with the national workmen, but it seemed too much like they expected us to give them stuff all the time: aspirins, building materials, etc. Cargo Cult! felt uncomfortable. We are getting to know the national Dean of Students, John Ding, and his family, which is fairly slow but nice. We get on well on a fairly lighthearted basis with 4 young German volunteers; some serious conversation too, though language can be tricky (our German is zero, their English reasonable, Pidgin so so!). We seem to get on well with the Americans at Kudjip, but their lives are busy and I feel a bit superfluous and not wanting to intrude. Other expats are friendly in general, but more party level contact.
Perry: Difficult: cargo cult seems to infiltrate into every area of ones life here.
Jesse: Hard: no real bonds as cargo cult becomes involved. They do not seem equal from both sides: it seems as if you're always giving.
Keren: Weird: if you'd call them friends, but they can be really sweet. "Friends" here can get very moody and can be nice and unpleasant to be with.
Nathanael: Some friends are good and will be for a long time; others, as soon as I go will drop off like a dead chrysalis.

20. On a Sunday night, what do you look forward to most in the coming week?
Sandi: Kudjip and Tuesday with Perry: getting away for the day [see Our Weekly Trip to Hagen].
Perry: Tuesday, in town with Sandi (although, if the question was, "What do you not look forward to the most?" the answer probably would be the same because of the shopping. A very bittersweet experience!)
Jesse: Getting letters from friends in Australia.
Keren: Basketball at Kudjip and seeing class mates again.
Nathanael: Basketball with the Radcliffes.

21. If there was one thing you could change, what would that be?
Sandi: Destructive cultural practices: payback, compensation & wantok system.
Perry: Some of the appalling design decisions made previously around the college [see Good Shepherd College from the Air].
Jesse: Beaches in the highlands, email at the college, and a better Papua New Guinea postal system (for letters, but parcels especially).
Keren: The location of our house.
Nathanael: Pollution.

22. What are you hoping to happen over the Christmas holidays?
Sandi: Trip to Madang/village: refreshment and a good break.
Perry: Holiday in a village by the beach: getting into some real Papua New Guinean culture and life.
Jesse: Madang: live on the beach for two weeks and maybe an expedition to Mt. Wilhem later on with the Radcliffes.
Keren: To go to Madang and Goroka.
Nathanael: Go to Madang.

23. What is one thing you would like to take back to Australia?
Sandi: Lack of pressure lifestyle.
Perry: my family.
Jesse: The weather, the easy access to tropical fruits and lots of cultural artifacts.
Keren: Lots of stuff: bilims, hat bilims and a lot of traditional junk. Junk? Well, stuff from here.
Nathanael: Kina shell.